What Do You Put in Your Bloody Mary?

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As a US scientist declares the Bloody Mary the world’s most complex cocktail, Max Davidson wonders if it’s ever acceptable to add your own ingredients – and ditch the celery stick altogether?

Nice work if you can get it. Let other scientists split the atom and find cures for cancer. An American boffin has landed what would be close to my fantasy job: drinking quantities of Bloody Mary and giving his scholarly opinion on it.

Dr Neil Da Costa, an expert on the chemical analysis of flavours, is employed by the company International Flavours and Fragrances in New Jersey, USA, and now declares the Bloody Mary to be the world’s most complex cocktail.

From the point of view of flavour chemistry, his specialist field, it apparently has “a blend of hundreds of flavour compounds that acts on the taste senses”. It’s the perfect balance of “sweet, salty, sour and savoury, though not bitter” – but, according to the New Jersey flavour-meister, is the most difficult to get right.

The last time I ordered a Bloody Mary was a week ago, when I had lunch with Sir Michael Parkinson at his Michelin-starred pub in Berkshire. It was a good ’un, robustly flavoured, as virile and uncomplicated as Parky’s native Yorkshire, but without that poncey accessory you get in cocktail bars in Mayfair – the stick of celery.

What is the celery doing there? It adds nothing, flavour-wise, and you have to drink around it, like a nervous vicar, or it gets impaled in your nostril. Are you meant to lick the vodka and tomato juice off the celery? Or nibble it like a rabbit? Puh-lease. I have yet to meet anyone who orders a Bloody Mary and says: “…And make sure you add a stick of celery, Marcus old chap.”

As there is no classic recipe as such, ordering a Bloody Mary is a task like no other – a question of which ingredients from a rich and spicy repertoire should you add in or leave out.

“When it comes to the Bloody Mary, everyone has their own preferences,” says drinks expert Tom Sandham of www.dwink.com. “Traditional ingredients include Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper, horseradish, lemon juice and celery salt – but what goes into a Bloody Mary, and in what quantities, varies from bar to bar and from person to person.”

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